Season’s Greetings from the MCSI

Santa
We live in interesting times…

Always remember that it’s not just Santa who needs an open chimney. Thank you to all our volunteers and supporters for making 2016 a memorable year for Chimney Swift conservation in Manitoba. We hope you enjoy the coming holiday season and look forward to seeing many of you in 2017!

— The Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative (Christian Artuso, Ron Bazin, Neil Butchard, Lewis Cocks, Ken De Smet, Nicole Firlotte, Frank Machovec (web maestro), Rob and Barb Stewart (St Adolphe gurus) and Tim Poole (Habitat and Outreach))

Stewardship and Outreach

I thought now would be a good time to send an update to our supporters on the progress of our stewardship and outreach activities in the past couple of months. During the fall, MCSI employed a Winnipeg-based mason, Ed Loewen, to carry out repairs to five active chimneys which had become degraded and required repairs to ensure they would remain viable swift habitat. The selection of sites is carried out on a simple criteria, being:

  • Is or has the chimney been an active site for swifts in the past 5-10 years?
  • If it has not been active for a few years is there good reason for that (e.g. the top of the chimney has been blocked by falling masonry)?
  • If it has not been active for a few years but repairs would make it suitable, are there other Chimney Swifts in the area to suggest birds might return once the work is complete?
  • Most importantly, is there interest from the building owners and community in seeing these repairs through and to be champions of swift conservation in the future?

In 2016 we originally had a longer list of sites with which to work but due to various reasons, for example change of ownership, we were able to reduce the final list to five chimneys. Below, I will summarise the work we were able to complete.

  1. Merchant’s Hotel, Selkirk (2 chimneys)

We were delighted to complete our first project in Selkirk with the Merchant’s Hotel. This building had recently changed hands and the new owner was very willing to work with us. There are two chimneys on the building. One was active and the other had been blocked by a bee nest. Inspection of the cleanout of the second smaller chimney revealed that swifts had historically used the site and we had repairs completed to both in the hope that a second pair of swifts will nest here in future years. The chimney had a flashing pan added to the top, offering greater stability over a longer period of time. The photos below show the before, during and after stages of this work.

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  1. St Norbert’s Parish Church

Local volunteer Blaire Barta first discovered the chimney on the rear of the St Norbert’s Parish Church while walking her dog in 2015. Following a no swift-show for new volunteer Lucy Johnson during the National Roost Monitoring Program evenings in 2016, it appeared that we might be out of luck. However, local reports suggested that swifts failed to appear in St Norbert until mid-June in 2016, a strange event indeed. Later in the summer following reports of swifts in the area, Blaire returned for another look. That evening six birds entered the chimney. Given the state of the top of the chimney, we moved fast to ensure that it could be repaired promptly, and this was completed during the fall. This was the most complex procedure due to the position and height of the chimney on the church building and the need to wrap scaffolding around the entire structure to protect the roof.

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  1. Good News Fellowship Church, St Mary’s Road, Winnipeg

The chimney on the Good News Fellowship Church was becoming extremely degraded with the mortar holding the bricks together eroding. Following a chimney inspection in the summer, the church building maintenance repointed the chimney on their own back. It was suggested afterwards by an independent source that a pan to cover the lip would help to stabilise the top layers of bricks and MCSI stepped in to help with this part of the work.

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  1. Yale Street, Winnipeg

This building was already made famous by a piece on the CBC website. This fall we had the chimney at the front of the property repointed. This allowed the owners to upgrade a previously capped chimney at the rear of the property in order to install a new central heating system. By doing so, we helped to conserve the swift habitat for future breeding attempts.

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The work program above was achieved thanks to grants given by Environment Canada and a private donation to MCSI.

A few notes on the outreach part of our program. I am ordering some more copies of the Spits and Sticks book. I have recently donated copies to a school in Winnipeg and the town library in Carmen. I gave a short talk to the children of École St Avila in Winnipeg on the resident Chimney Swifts found there during the past summer.

Finally, it is always great to bring swift stories from Canada and the wider world to the attention of our supporters and there have been a couple of stories bought to my attention today. The first of these is from a website called the Birding Wire. Scroll to the bottom of the homepage and there is a story about Chimney Swifts in West Virginia. Always great to here of the considerable energy that communities across North America make for Chimney Swifts.

The other story relates to a blog from the UK from a chap called Mark Avery, formerly Director of Conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. In a guest blog, we can see what artificial habitat looks like for the Common Swift. I am sure everyone can agree that it looks a lot less complicated than Chimney Swift habitat!

— Tim Poole, Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative Habitat Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator

2016 recap (from Nature Manitoba News)

Chimney Swift Season 2016

A recap from our partner program MCSI

By: Tim Poole, Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative Coordinator

2016 has been a busy and successful year for the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative and as the first snows of winter finally join us, this seems to be an opportune moment for an update to the Nature Manitoba membership.

Monitoring Successes

There are a large number of stories generated by volunteers spending dozens of hours peering at chimneys in search of a plunging swift and there is not really space enough to cover all of these in this piece. However, there are a few which are too good to pass up!

  1. Manitoba’s first recorded shared nest and roost chimney was discovered at the Assiniboine School by volunteers David Wiebe and Adolf Ens. This is an unusual not unheard of occurrence in other parts of their range. Sharing a nest site with another hundred or so swifts seems a little uncomfortable!
  2. Nature Manitoba member John Hays certainly caught the Chimney Swift bug earlier this summer, uncovering  at least four previously unknown nest and roost sites in the area between the Health Science Centre and Exchange District. IBA summer student, Marshall Birch also got in on the act, helping to discover another three.
  3. Discovering new sites in towns where we already know swifts are present is one thing, discovering them in new places is something completely different. Thanks to Manitoba Sustainable Development biologist Ken De Smet, we were able to add Manitou and Stonewall to our list of settlements with swifts. There were also swifts seen flying around in The Pas, only the second time this has been recorded.
  4. St Adolphe continues to be the centre of a hive of activity, not least thanks to St Adolphe volunteers, and critical partners in MCSI, Barb and Rob Stewart. Chicks only fledged from the church in 2016, although some of the latest breeding attempts were made on record thanks to delays in breeding likely bought about due to less than satisfactory weather in June.
  5. Our volunteers continue to astound us. In late May, during an apocalyptic downpour, Beth Hiltz and David Wiebe recorded our largest entry of the season, with 156 swifts entering the chimney at the Assiniboine School. Across Manitoba, volunteers have driven this program with enthusiasm.

Building for success

Thanks to funding from Environment Canada, we are able to repair damaged chimneys, retaining these critical habitats for Chimney Swifts. Without this funding, we risk the loss of these chimneys as they either collapse or are demolished. In 2016, MCSI have repaired five chimneys in Selkirk, Winnipeg and St Norbert. We are always looking out for new projects and more funding to ensure that we can continue with this program in future years.

Champions Galore!

Since 2014, MCSI has begun handing out plaques to some of our most distinguished building owners and volunteers. Swift Champions are those who have shown a demonstrable commitment to the conservation of Manitoba’s Chimney Swift population. In 2016 we have presented 6 plaques to landowners. We have also begun to present plaques to volunteers and we are pleased to announce that we are going to present plaques to a few groups of volunteers who have contributed hugely to MCSI knowledge through their monitoring programs at different sites. These volunteers do regular season-long monitoring at some of Manitoba’s largest roost sites and in no particular order are:

  • The Selkirk Birdwatching Club
  • David Wiebe (Assiniboine School volunteer)
  • Adolf Ens (Assiniboine School volunteer)
  • Ken Wainwright (Dauphin volunteer)
  • Gord Ogilvie (Portage la Prairie volunteer)
  • Lewis Cocks (MCSI founder)

And finally

Thanks once more to all our volunteers and the support of our partner organisations – MCSI would be nothing without the incredible support we receive from all of you. We look forward to a successful 2017!

(courtesy Nature Manitoba News-December 2016)